GWACHEON, KOREA, December 07, 2020 /24-7PressRelease/ — A South Korean religious group has recently been in the spotlight surrounding allegations of negligence in handling a localized COVID-19 outbreak. After discovering the initial outbreak, the religious group, Shincheonji Church of Jesus, halted all in-person worship services and worked to ensure the control of the outbreak. Korean officials launched an investigation shortly after and alleged that the church leaders did not cooperate when lists containing personal information of church members were requested. Shincheonji claims that they completely complied with the government and are being targeted because of their unpopularity with other Korean Christian churches.

After the member lists were submitted, portions of them were reportedly leaked, allowing the identities of some Shincheonji members to be exposed to their family and acquaintances. This resulted in several instances of human rights violations on Shincheonji members from their families and some from strangers. Since mid-February, the church reported over 5,500 cases of human rights violations including dismissal from work and being ostracized from family. Some members report even being forced out of their homes. Other anti-Shincheonji people resort to using coercive conversion methods to “de-convert” Shincheonji members.

Coercive conversion – a method of forcefully “de-converting” someone from a certain religion – is legal in South Korea despite many laws guaranteeing citizens freedom of religion. Family of Shincheonji members have been known to use this method as a way of pulling their loved ones out of Shincheonji or believing its doctrines. Coercive conversion is often carried out by pastors of popular Christian groups in Korea that receive payment from the Shincheonji members’ families.

Sources say that coercive conversion is often carried out by abduction, confinement and in many cases assault. Recent incidents show coercive conversion can go as far as ending a person’s life.

Since 2003 there have been over 1,500 cases of kidnapping, physical confinement and de-conversion of Shincheonji members via the coercive conversion method. Out of these, there have been a few cases that ended in fatality. In 2007, a man reportedly incited by a Christian pastor murdered his wife who was a Shincheonji member. In 2018, 27-year-old Ji-in Gu died at the hands of her parents who were allegedly attempting to convert her from attending the Shincheonji church in a coercive conversion center. Ji-in Gu’s death inspired protests from hundreds of thousands of Koreans calling for the banning of the practice. Memorials around the world and videos (found here) began circulating to bring awareness and call for change.

Korean law specifies freedom of religion for its citizens, and it abides by the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) which states in Article 18, “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice”. Several calls for the end of coercive conversion by Shincheonji members have been made. And in spite of the persecution, Shincheonji continues to help the community by holding prayer meetings to end COVID-19 and hosted three record-breaking plasma donation drives since September. The plasma is already being used to treat ill patients at several medical facilities.

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